Capped: Lessons Learned from the 2017-18 Season
With fantasy leagues and the regular season wrapped up as of last Sunday, it seems to be the right time to take a quick look back over the season and try to learn a few things. Every year we realize we undervalued or overvalued certain players, teams or positions. That will happen again, as long as the sport is played by humans – there are just too many unknowns affected by chance, and personal circumstance. However, on the whole, we can try to look over some patters, determining where to go from here with them. Hopefully this way we can learn something useful to take forward to next year.
Scoring is Back in Vogue
The NHL saw quite the uptick in scoring this year. From one 90+ point scorer last season, to nine this season, we were treated to much more offence for our fantasy teams. The scoring difference was very much top heavy as well. From 2016-2017 to 2017-2018, we also saw increases of:
75-point scorers from 10 to 29
60-point scorers from 42 to 75
50-point scorers from 103 to 118
40-point scorers from 166 to 181
What this tells us, is that much of the scoring jump was top heavy. Top lines, top defence pairings and top powerplay units all got a boost, spilling into second lines, especially on the teams where the lines were a little more fluid.
Some likely reasons for this include:
-The expansion franchise spreading talent slightly thinner
-The crackdown on slashing/hooking/stickwork
-Teams transitioning to the four-forward power-play units – and increasing the efficiency (up a full percent on last year)
-More games from backup goalies due to teams wanting rested starters come playoff time
What we can take away from this, is that owning top line players has become even more valuable, since the discrepancy between them and the second/third line players are growing. Allotting your cap space dollars in a manner to maximize the star power on your team may make a bigger difference now. This means finding the $6.5 million player and the $1.5 million player, instead of looking at the two $4 million players.
Goaltenders are still very tough to project, which means you may not want to be spending top dollar on one. Are Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne going to be worth their $7 million cap hits next year, or do they falter the same as previous top goalies Braden Holtby and Carey Price have? We don’t know for sure. However, what we do know, is that skaters tend to be more consistent year to year, so selling high on a goalie will likely beat selling high on a skater once a new season rolls around.
The Cap Continues to Rise
With the cap projected to be anywhere between $78-82 million next year, in addition to the large financial success from the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, the annual rise of the salary cap doesn’t appear to be slowing. It should continue to rise over the next few years due to the influx of dollars from the Vegas market, as well as the continued growth the game is seeing. With the 2020 expansion to Seattle also in the works, it should be a safe bet to expect the numbers to continue to rise over the next handful of years.
The only counterpoint would be a potential lockout once the new CBA expires. This could be for the 2020-2021 season, but it is also possible that the current CBA gets extended with the one-year option included, and we see the lockout threat pushed back to 2021-2022. Around the 2012 lockout season, the cap remained relatively neutral, and with that being our only data point to draw conclusions from, we have to assume relatively the same occurrence being likely for our next occasion.
When planning the core of your team, look to take advantage of some longer-term contracts, because the longer you hold on to them, the more they start to look like bargains. This is best exploited with players who have signed in the last two years and may be close to fair price (market value) now, but in another two to three years, become the reason your team is at the top of the standings.
This isn’t exactly a lesson, but we have learned recently that Kovalchuk wants to return to the NHL. He will be a free-agent this summer, able to sign with whomever he chooses, without having to pass through waivers or gain approval of all the league’s general managers.
He may be turning 35, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still score goals with the best of them. In the past two seasons, Patrick Marleau has potted 27 goals in each campaign while playing a reduced role. He is turning 39 in the fall and is one of the many NHLers that have shown the fast/skilled players can keep producing long past the bigger-body players. Expecting 25+ goals from Kovalchuk doesn’t seem to be a foolish venture at this stage.
Rumour has it that Kovalchuk is set to sign with the New York Rangers, which seems strange considering their letter to the fans just a month and a half ago, stating they would be entering a rebuilding phase. Either way, that is not for us to judge. What is most important to us as fantasy owners, is what Kovalchuk can provide, and how much will he cost.
A 30-year old Alexander Radulov returned from Russia in 2016 on a one-year deal worth $5.75 million. Kovalchuk’s deal is reportedly spanning two or three years, likely bringing the cap hit down. The situations are comparable, as are the skill levels, and neither was a young star looking for their first big contract. As a result, those of you hoping for Kovalchuk to sign a cheap deal worth $2 million or less will be disappointed. Expect his contract to come in closer to $4 million, and maybe even over $5 million. Still a good price for a 30-goal scorer, but don’t expect too much production outside of the scoring, especially if he lands on the Rangers.
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That caps off another Thursday. Enjoy the playoffs!
If you want to talk hockey, salary caps, or anything even remotely related, you can find me on twitter any day of the week @alexdmaclean
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